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Microwave Popcorn Lawsuit Over Consumer Lung Disease Dismissed

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A federal judge has dismissed a microwave popcorn lung lawsuit filed by a Michigan couple, who alleged that a chemical additive used in microwave popcorn caused the husband to suffer a severe respiratory disease.  

U.S. District Judge Mark Brennett dismissed a lawsuit brought by David and Barbara Stults on December 24, finding the couple failed to file the complaint (PDF) in a timely manner.

Michigan has a three year statute of limitations, meaning that plaintiffs have three years to file a civil lawsuit after they knew or reasonably should have known that a product caused them to suffer injury or damages.

“The relevant statutory period for products liability claims is three years and that period began to accrue when the wrong occurred or, more specific to this case, when David ate microwave popcorn containing the Flavoring Defendants’ butter flavorings containing diacetyl,” the judge wrote.

The lawsuit was filed over the development of a rare, but serious, respiratory condition scientifically known as bronchiolitis obliterans, which can be caused by exposure to the chemical diacetyl, which was previously used to give microwave popcorn its buttery smell. The disease is more commonly referred to as “popcorn lung”, because of its prevalence among workers in the microwave popcorn and flavoring chemical industries, who were exposed to diacetyl during the manufacturing process.

Popcorn lung involves scarring and inflammation of small airways, known as bronchioles, leading to diminished lung capacity and breathing problems. The disease is irreversible and severe cases may require lung transplants and can lead to death.

More than 300, popcorn lung injury lawsuits have been filed throughout the country over the development of the respiratory disease. However, the vast majority of the claims were brought by workers or former workers at facilities that make microwave popcorn. The Stults’ complaint was one of only a few that were brought on behalf of consumers of microwave popcorn who alleged they were exposed to sufficient levels of the chemical to cause illness.

According to allegations raised by the Michigan couple, David Stults was a heavy microwave popcorn eater from 1991 to 2009, when he was diagnosed with popcorn lung disease. The couple filed the lawsuit in 2011, but the judge pointed out in his decision (PDF) that the defendants, Bush Boake Allen, Inc. and International Flavors a& Fragrances, had not used the flavoring since 2005.

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